Transparent SBG

I am lucky enough to teach down the hall from my husband (a fellow science teacher, modeler and SBG enthusiast) and over the last two years we have developed a standards-based grading system that has been successful with 8th graders through high school seniors. We attribute a large portion of that success to transparency. Students and parents will not buy into a grading system they do not understand.

Here is a breakdown of our “flavor” of SBG:

1. Students’ grades are tracked by learning target, not assignment

Rationale: This is the basic premise behind any SBG system. A gradebook full of assignments like “quiz 1.1” and “homework 5.2” does not represent what a student has actually learned. If your gradebook says “I can convert between mass and moles” and “I can balance a chemical equation,” now you can actually see what your students know. 

2. For each learning target, students receive a grade of “got it”, “almost” or “not yet”

Rationale: The point grubbing disease is real. How many times has a student come to you and asked “how many points do I need to get an A?” Getting rid of all points language forces students to ask “what do I need to learn to get an A?” The three point scale helps keep objectivity. Either a student gets it, has a few issues but is on the right track or is completely off in left field. Anything more and it gets a bit muddled. 

3. Each learning target is assessed by the teacher on 2-3 different assessments

Rationale: Taking one snapshot of a student’s knowledge does not show growth nor does it show retention. We give small, frequent assessments instead of large exams.

4. Students can initiate reassessments on any learning target at any time

Rationale: Not all students learn at the same pace. If a student can prove that he or she has mastered a concept, his or her grade should reflect that, regardless of when that learning occurred.

5. The median grade of all assessments is taken for each learning target

Rationale: This is probably where the different flavors of SBG vary the most. We use median because it requires students who did not understand a concept at first to prove mastery multiple times but it does not make it impossible to get a grade up. 

6. The overall class grade is the average of all learning targets

Rationale: This where the “got it”, “almost”, and “not yet” has to turn back into points. We set a “got it” as 2 points, an “almost” as 1 point and a “not yet” as 0 points. Then we take a flat average across all learning targets. That average over 2 is the student’s percent in the class. Another flavor that works well is using percent mastery (grade is based on the percent of learning targets that have been mastered). 

This paradigm shift is a little scary for students and parents at first but once everyone understands how it works, it runs quite smoothly. Stay tuned for future posts with practical tips for implementation.

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